Affirmative Action Is on Docket ; Justices to Weigh Race in College Admissions

By Barnes, Robert | The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), February 22, 2012 | Go to article overview

Affirmative Action Is on Docket ; Justices to Weigh Race in College Admissions


Barnes, Robert, The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)


The Supreme Court said Tuesday that it will consider whether the time has come to eliminate affirmative action in college admissions, resurrecting in an election year questions about the role race should play in American life.

The court will hear a white student's claims that the University of Texas' race-conscious admissions policy cost her a spot in the freshman class. A divided court only nine years ago said that universities were allowed to take race into account as one of many factors in considering applicants, when attempting to assemble a diverse student body.

Opponents of affirmative action hope that the current court, more conservative than the one that made the 2003 decision, will further constrain the use of race or eliminate it completely.

The affirmative action case adds to a remarkable convergence of controversial social issues on the court's docket, even as the justices themselves take on a higher, election-year profile.

The court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, allowing unlimited corporate and union election spending, has roiled the world of political fundraising. Next month, the justices will hear six hours of oral arguments about President Obama's health care overhaul. After that, they will consider Arizona's controversial attempts to crack down on illegal immigrants.

And it seems inevitable that the court will be drawn into partisan fighting over political redistricting as well as the question of same-sex marriage. The affirmative action case will be heard when the court's new term begins in October, just as the nation turns to the presidential election.

Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, which is representing Abigail Noel Fisher, the student rejected by UT, said the case "presents the court with an opportunity to clarify the boundaries of race preferences in higher education or even reconsider whether race should be permitted at all under the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection."

The Obama administration supported Texas in the lower courts and has advised colleges and universities that under the court's 2003 decision, they may still make some race-based decisions to expand campus diversity.

UT President Bill Powers said that is the goal of the admissions policy.

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Affirmative Action Is on Docket ; Justices to Weigh Race in College Admissions
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